Jumping Back to Plank: What’s the Big Deal?

October 6, 2016    BY Jenni Rawlings

All my life in the yoga world, I have heard the instruction that one should never jump back into plank pose. Instead of landing in plank, this core yoga rule goes, we should land directly in chaturanga dandasana—in other words, we should always jump into the bottom of a push-up and never jump into the top of a push-up. The reasons usually cited for this instruction are that jumping back into plank is injurious for any number of body parts, including the wrists, shoulders, low back, knees, ankles, and big toes.

I used to believe and teach this yoga rule as well, but in more recent times I have changed my perspective on the issue. I don't think that there is anything inherently wrong with jumping back into plank pose, and I think the widespread prohibition of this movement mostly serves to create some unnecessary fear and worry about our yoga practice.

I used to believe and teach this yoga rule as well, but in more recent times I have changed my perspective on the issue.

Here are my main reasons for this viewpoint—I hope you use them to examine your beliefs and then come to your own conclusion about the "never jump to plank" rule!

Reason #1: You Could Injure Yourself By Jumping Into Plank, But . . .

I definitely agree that it's possible to injure oneself while jumping into plank pose. If you lack the ability to engage through your core, press strongly through your arms, and/or land lightly, then some areas of your body may experience a higher-than-optimal level of stress, which could lead to injury. But I fail to see how this is different from so many other movements in yoga that can also be injurious if one lacks proper technique and body awareness—yet we don't make blanket statements about the importance of "never" doing most of these other movements.

One yoga transition that stands out to me as especially risky for the body if one lacks the proper strength and control is, ironically, jumping straight into chaturanga. Even though chaturanga is traditionally considered the safer asana to jump into, this pose is actually much more challenging to execute skillfully than plank pose. Chaturanga involves much higher loads to the neck, shoulders, and spine than plank pose does, and these loads are significantly higher if we jump into the pose (especially if we slam down with a lot of velocity like many yogis do) instead of lowering slowly into it. In fact, so many yoga students lack the foundational skills to practice chaturanga well that I created a whole online tutorial on how to approach this pose with integrity.

I would suggest that, contrary to popular teachings, one is at greater risk of injury from performing a sloppy jump-back into chaturanga than they are from performing a sloppy jump-back into plank pose.

Reason #2: Jumping Into Plank Is Commonly Practiced in Other Movement Systems Without Concern or Widespread Injury

If you ever visit a gym or other fitness setting, a common movement used for warming up that you'd likely see is something called a burpee. (Yes, I agree that this is an odd name for an exercise, but a fun trivia note is that the burpee is named after the person who founded it—a physiologist named Royal H. Burpee.)

To perform a burpee, one begins in a standing position, lowers down into a squat, jumps back into plank pose with straight arms, often performs one push-up, jumps forward again into a squat, and then jumps up and lands back in a standing position. A typical "set" of burpees is anywhere from 10 to 15 done in a row, and people generally perform at least three sets (and often many more) in one workout. In addition to this classic exercise, there are many variations, such as the one-leg burpee, in which one jumps back into a one-legged plank instead of a traditional plank, the side burpee, in which one jumps into a variation of side plank, and the one-arm burpee, in which the entire movement is performed with one arm lifted.

In addition, multiple research studies have been done by exercise scientists which include the burpee as a movement alongside other classic fitness exercises (examples here and here).

The fact that the burpee, which involves jumping back into plank pose repetitively, is so prevalent in the fitness world and is also included in research studies suggests to me that it has not been found by fitness professionals or sports scientists to be particularly injurious for the body.

Reason #3: Jumping Into Plank Could Actually Have Some Benefits

To be honest, even though I don't believe that jumping into plank pose is inherently dangerous, I don't tend to teach this movement very often in my yoga classes. But I do believe that jumping into plank (or chaturanga, for that matter) could have some benefits for the body that we often overlook when we focus on the potential risks of this transition instead.

There is a type of fitness training called plyometrics which utilizes jumping exercises to increase a person's power, defined here as the speed at which they can use their strength during a task. Plyometrics are also known to enhance one's endurance and agility, and several studies have actually shown that they can increase bone density (examples here and here).

There is some debate about whether a burpee (aka the fitness world's version of "jumping into plank") can technically be considered a plyometric exercise. But I believe there is enough crossover between the two to suggest that they would offer some similar benefits.

Additionally, we know that movement variability is important for neural learning, tissue health, and overall graceful aging, so the argument could be made that learning how to jump back skillfully into both plank and chaturanga—and not just one or the other—could be beneficial.

Reason #4: There Are No Inherently Bad Movements

You might recall a controversial article I wrote earlier this year called “Are Some Movements Inherently Bad?” In this article, I argued that instead of looking at a movement as inherently bad and damaging for the body, we should reverse our reasoning and instead look at an individual body and ask if it is adapted and prepared to handle the loads of that particular movement.

For example, a beginning yoga student with an office-working, sedentary lifestyle who has never borne weight on her arms might be prone to injury if she tries jumping into plank (and even more so if she tries jumping into chaturanga—yikes!). But because the biological reality of our bodies is that they adapt to become stronger to the loads they experience on a regular basis, most practiced yogis who have a good sense of body control and core stabilization should be able to jump lightly into plank pose without causing injury.

Conclusion

To be clear, I'm certainly not suggesting that all yoga teachers run out and start teaching everyone to jump into plank during every vinyasa. I'm simply questioning the reasoning behind the ubiquitous "never jump into plank" warning that nearly every yoga teacher learns in their yoga teacher training. Is this transition necessarily dangerous for everyone, and is jumping into chaturanga somehow innately safer? Where do these beliefs originate? I believe that questioning our biases about these transitions can help us to become more critical-thinking yoga teachers who can serve our individual students better.

Jenni Rawlings
Jenni Rawlings is a yoga teacher with an emphasis on anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and movement science. You can find out more about her offerings and teachings at www.jennirawlings.com.

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